House panel to consider new WRDA in September
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has announced plans for the committee to consider a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) when Congress returns in September.
As Shuster made clear, the new WRDA, to be named the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), will be heavy on reforms.
“One of my top priorities is moving forward with unprecedented water-resources infrastructure reform legislation,” Shuster said. “This bill will be the most policy- and reform-focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades. This legislation will contain no earmarks and will make major reforms to increase transparency, accountability and congressional oversight in reviewing and prioritizing future water resources development activities.
“WRRDA will cut federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamline the project delivery process, promote fiscal responsibility and strengthen our water transportation networks to promote fiscal responsibility, and strengthen our water transportation networks to promote American competitiveness, prosperity and economic growth,” he said.
Lawmakers seek improved maritime transport
The House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee held a hearing July 31 to find out what is being done to improve the efficiency, safety and security of maritime transportation.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., subcommittee chairman, said in an opening statement that the Coast Guard has made progress during the past decade in acquiring new technology to collect, integrate and disseminate maritime domain awareness (MDA) data. But he said that implementation “has been slow, several gaps still exist, and budget realities mean the Coast Guard will struggle to achieve its goals for the MDA program.”
Furthermore, Hunter said that the Coast Guard “still lacks a single system capable of fully fusing, filtering and displaying all MDA information in one common operating picture.” He also said that the Coast Guard “has yet to fully achieve” its goal to acquire new C4ISR (command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems that would enable recapitalized vessels and aircraft to collect and fuse MDA information into a common operational picture and then share it with one another and among shoreside installations.
Testifying on Coast Guard plans and technical challenges, Rear Adm. Mark Butt, assistant commandant for capability, said that to improve information sharing through interoperable solutions, the Coast Guard is “focusing on system development and data standardization that is compliant with the National Information Exchange Model and facilitates a cloud computing environment. This effort is absolutely essential for system sustainability, adaptability and future mission effectiveness.”
Steve Morrow, president and CEO of Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing, promoted the use of unmanned vehicle systems to increase the reach and efficiency of current maritime systems while reducing the risk of the operations. Speaking on behalf of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Morrow said that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have the ability to access and survey “vast expanses of our oceans and rivers to supplement the capabilities of manned vehicles and other platforms.”
“The critical situation awareness that UASs provide could support search and rescue operations, anti-drug or anti-smuggling operations, environmental protection, anti-piracy operations and many other missions,” Morrow said. “In these missions, UASs are capable of saving time, saving money and most importantly, saving lives.”
Another witness, William Vass, CEO of Liquid Robotics, told the subcommittee how the company’s Wave Glider, an unmanned ocean vehicle “capable of precise navigation, can stay at sea for a year at a time without needing fuel, without polluting and without putting human lives at risk.” Vass said the wave- and solar-powered Wave Glider could help the Coast Guard “exponentially expand patrol coverage, increase operational efficiencies and do so at a fraction of the cost and environmental impact of ships.”
House approves $4 billion for Corps of Engineers
Voting 227-198, the House on July 10 passed an appropriations bill (H.R. 2609) that includes more than $4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The Corps’ funding includes $90 million for investigations, $1.3 billion for construction, $2.7 billion for operation and maintenance, $249 million for the Mississippi River and tributaries, $104 million to clean up contamination from the early atomic energy program, $28 million for flood control and coastal emergencies, and $193 million for the Corps’ regulatory program.
A similar bill (S. 1245) was introduced in the Senate on June 27, but no action has been taken on the legislation. The amounts called for in the Senate bill include $120 million for general investigations, $1.5 billion for construction, $2.7 billion for operation and maintenance, $300 million for the Mississippi River and tributaries, and $200 million for the regulatory program.
Coast Guard drops medium frequency services
The Coast Guard has announced that it will no longer maintain a watch on 2182 kHz, will no longer guard the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) channel 2187.5 kHz, and will no longer transmit marine information broadcasts on 2670 kHz.
The Coast Guard said that minimal use of those channels by mariners for distress and safety, coupled with antenna site deterioration and costly maintenance to support the medium frequency (MF) system, led to the decision to terminate MF services Aug. 1. Mariners have been directed to use more modern safety and distress services that can be more reliably received by the Coast Guard.
For more information, call Larry Solomon at (202) 475-3556.
Corps eyes new rules for Mississippi River reservoirs
The Army Corps of Engineers has invited comments on a proposal to amend the rules regarding use and administration of the reservoirs at the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
The proposal calls for the Corps to delete from the Code of Federal Regulations all references to minimum discharges and operating limits for the reservoirs. The Corps said that the purpose of the proposal is to ensure that the regulations do not conflict with the current operating plan for those reservoirs.
Comments identified by docket number COE-2013-0008 should be submitted by Sept. 13. For more details, call Jerry Webb at (202) 761-0673, Chandra Pathak at (202) 761-4668, or Kenton Spading at (651) 290-5623.
Seaway cargo volumes down from 2012
Administrators of the St. Lawrence Seaway report that the Montreal/Lake Ontario Section handled 8.9 million metric tons of cargo through the first half of the 2013 navigation season, down from 10.5 million tons in the corresponding period last year.
Iron ore led the bulk commodities moved through MO/LO with 2.7 million tons, down from 3.9 million tons transported in 2012 through June.
Coast Guard to update safety rules for uninspected vessels
The Coast Guard has invited comments by Oct. 15 on a proposal to align its regulations with the 2010 Coast Guard Authorization Act.
Before 2010, uninspected commercial barges and commercial sailing vessels fell outside the scope of a statute requiring the regulation of lifesaving devices on uninspected vessels. Lifesaving devices were required these vessels only if they carried passengers for hire. The 2010 act brought uninspected commercial barges and sailing vessels within the scope of the statutory requirement to carry lifesaving devices even if the vessels carry no passengers.
The Coast Guard proposes requiring use of wearable personal flotation devices (PFDs) for individuals on board uninspected commercial barges and sailing vessels, and amending several regulatory tables to reflect that requirement.
Details of the Coast Guard’s proposal are spelled out in the Federal Register of July 17. For more information, call Martin Jackson at 202-372-1391.
Transportation bills stalled in House, Senate
Two transportation bills remained stalled in the House and Senate as lawmakers locked their desks and left Washington for a five-week vacation through the first week of September.
Voting on the $54 billion Senate bill was blocked Aug. 1 when senators rejected a motion to end debate on the Department of Transportation spending measure for fiscal year 2014. In the House, Republican leaders called off voting on a $44 billion bill after it appeared the measure lacked the votes to pass.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, indicated that Congress might have to extend current federal funding past the beginning of the new fiscal year Oct. 1 until work on appropriations bills is completed.